Recovery takes many forms.
I never thought mine would happen 20 years after I stopped seeing a counselor or that I would be recovering from what I had viewed as my cure. I thought alcohol might be my problem. Turns out, it was much more basic than that.
When I first started seeing a counselor, I didn’t think I was either an alcoholic or depressed.
Sure, I drank a lot, but all the guys I hung around with did too. Sure, I was the only girl, but did that make a difference?
I was 22 years old, 1800 miles away from home, and had just flunked out of graduate school. I just knew that I was unhappy and one of my drinking buddies told me this counselor might be able to help. So, I went to see her.
I spent a lot of time talking about my feelings, learning about shame and hearing other people talk about their sobriety and addiction issues. I thought I might be an alcoholic, but it just didn’t seem to fit. I went to a few AA meetings, but it didn’t really take. Like many others, the religion part did not sit well with me. My parents always said religion was a crutch and smart people did not need it. It would be many more years before I would get past this particular belief.
My alcohol use continued until the day I went to a group session after having been drinking. As you can imagine, my safe place all of a sudden became a hostile and shame-filled place. Somehow, I made myself go back the next week and face the group again. I quit drinking soon after.
Sobriety Wasn’t Helping
My life didn’t get better though. It actually became harder to get out bed or go to work. I had less interest in life. My counselor finally said, “I wonder if you are depressed? Let’s have you take a test.” For an additional fee, I took the test. (If interested, you can find a similar test here that will give you some basic results.) Funny, I was depressed enough, almost, to need hospitalization (according to the test results). I went to my regular doctor and started taking antidepressants. Life was good.
I never did figure out why it took my counselor so long to decide I was depressed. Was she confused by the alcohol?
Did the alcohol mask the depression or did it cause it?
My New Problem
For many years I lived on antidepressants. Their success was fairly consistent. I usually felt pretty good and managed my life well. I never told my parents I was using them though. The shame that I couldn’t manage my life without crutches was always there.
Fifteen years after I first started the antidepressants, I moved back home. Between the long, dark, cold days of winter, and a lousy job I became miserable. I worked with a new doctor to change my prescription, gaining 50 pounds on the new one. That was the final straw.
Suddenly, I realized that my cure had become the problem. I went into full blown depression again, only it was even worse than previously. I could barely get out of bed. I quit my lousy job and didn’t have the energy to find another one. I ran through all my savings, maxed out my credit cards and started dipping into my retirement fund to pay my monthly living expenses. I hit bottom and something had to change.
I made the mental leap. The pills were not helping me, so I quit. I didn’t go to another doctor who didn’t really know me, I listened to myself. I quit the very thing that had saved my life years earlier.
I now realize that when I quit alcohol years ago, I wasn’t really in recovery. I was in suspension. Then, the antidepressants helped me function. My new addiction was the emotional stability of antidepressants. I didn’t have to think about what I was feeling, because they kept me stable. When they stopped working, I hit bottom. I realized the alcohol and then the antidepressants were just ways to keep me from dealing with my emotions. I never really dealt with those feelings of inadequacy, I just masked them. So, now, I can truly say that I am in recovery.
Recovery for me is about learning to manage my emotions. It has not been easy. My emotions are more volatile than they have been in twenty years. I have been doing a lot of reading on Emotional Intelligence and doing lots of practicing. Like any recovering person, I take it day by day.
It is empowering, though, to know that I can and am doing it.
With the help of her trusty Australian Shepherd dog and fiancé, Nicole is starting the second chapter of her life. She has recently rediscovered a need to communicate and share her reality, and is fulfilling it through writing and public speaking. In her spare time, she reads voraciously, loves to mountain bike and hike with her dog, and watches any show with a strong female character who kicks butt.